Back To CourseAP Psychology: Exam Prep
17 chapters | 175 lessons | 14 flashcard sets
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Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.
You probably picture most psychologists as being calm and rational individuals, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, in the 1960s, there was a heated war going on between two camps of psychology: the behaviorists and the cognitive psychologists.
Behavioral psychology approached emotions and thoughts as window dressing and maintained the belief that the major driving force within people is their responses to rewards and punishments from the world around them. For example, if you give someone a chocolate cookie every time they go running, they'll want to go running more because they will associate it with the reward of chocolate chip cookies. Never mind that they won't lose weight that way!
On the other hand, cognitive psychology focused on the importance of thoughts and emotions in the way that a person lives from day to day. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, cognitive psychologists believe he needs to change the way he thinks about food and exercise, learning to appreciate healthy foods and learning to think positively about exercising.
In the middle of the 20th century, behaviorists ruled the field of psychology. Thoughts? Feelings? Most psychologists didn't put much stock in those!
But Richard Lazarus stood up for thoughts and feelings. He studied people's stress levels and said that events are not good or bad, but the way we think about them is positive or negative, and therefore has an impact on our stress levels. For example, say that you are late to work and the person in line in front of you at the coffee shop is taking forever to order what he wants.
The fact that the person is taking that long isn't good or bad by itself. But you believe that it's a negative experience because it's going to make you late to work, which makes you feel stressed out.
On the other hand, you could look at that situation and say to yourself, 'So what if I'm late? This is actually good because it's giving me a few extra minutes this morning to catch my breath before going into the office.' You think of it as a positive experience, and therefore you don't feel stressed out.
Lazarus's theory is called the appraisal theory of stress, or the transactional theory of stress. You can remember this because the way a person appraises the situation affects how they feel about it. According to this theory, there are two things that a person thinks when they are faced with a situation. These are called the primary appraisal and the secondary appraisal.
Okay, let's go back to that coffee shop on a hectic morning. You're standing in line, already a little late to work, and the person in front of you is hemming and hawing about his drink order. He orders one thing and then changes his mind and orders another thing. Then he asks a complicated question about one of the items on the menu. Hearing me talk about it, you might already feel stressed out. But before you felt stressed, according to Lazarus, you first appraised the situation.
Your primary appraisal answers the questions: 'What does this situation mean?' and 'How can it affect me?' It is the primary appraisal because it is about the situation itself, not about your feelings.
So let's start with the first question, 'What does this situation mean?' If you're standing in line and the person in front of you is taking a long time to order, it means that you will be extra late to work.
The next question on your primary appraisal is: 'How can it affect me?' On one hand, you might believe that your boss will yell at you for being late. On the other hand, you might believe that being forced to stand in line for a few more minutes gives you the option of relaxing more before going into the office.
There are three possible appraisals that can occur during the primary appraisal: you could see the situation as neutral and not important, positive and challenging you to grow, or negative and stressful.
Let's look at another example. Say that you walk into your class on Monday morning, and your teacher tells you that there's a surprise quiz that you haven't studied for.
What does this situation mean? It might mean that you fail the quiz or that you just barely squeak by with a passing grade. How can it affect you? You might fail out of school, not get into college, and end up homeless.
On the other hand, you could learn something valuable about studying, or you could show how smart you are by getting a good grade despite not having studied. Again, notice that even though the situation is the same, your primary appraisal of the situation can be vastly different.
Remember that the primary appraisal isn't the end of things, though. There's also a secondary appraisal, which involves your feelings related to the stressor.
It's called a secondary appraisal because it deals with the indirect nature of feelings, not because it comes second. In fact, a secondary appraisal can occur simultaneously or even precede primary appraisal of a situation. In other words, you can have your primary appraisal first, your secondary appraisal first, or both at the same time.
The secondary appraisal can result in either positive or negative feelings about the situation. Let's go back to that morning that you showed up in class to find that you have a pop quiz. You might feel good about the quiz: after all, there's not a lot to lose since you didn't study. If you fail, no biggie! 'I'll try my best,' you tell yourself. On the other hand, you could feel very negative about the situation. 'I'm going to fail,' you tell yourself. You start to feel stressed out and scared, imagining all the worst-case scenarios.
You might have noticed that the secondary appraisal is closely linked with the primary appraisal question, 'How will this affect me?' In fact, the answer to that question might influence the way you feel: if you tell yourself that the quiz will end with you as a homeless person, you're probably going to have a negative secondary appraisal!
Let's look at the coffee shop situation again. Imagine that, even before you thought about what was going on or how late you were, when you first saw that the person in front of you was taking a long time to order, you felt relieved. Not stressed, not upset, but relieved!
In that case, you might decide that the person taking forever to order was a good thing because it gave you a few extra minutes to relax before having to go into the office. After all, you're already late. What's another minute or two?
Your secondary appraisal (the positive emotion of relief) influenced your primary appraisal of the situation. So, as you can see, it's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing: either one might come first!
During the middle of the 20th century, behavioral psychology, which denied the influence of emotions, was the predominant view. But cognitive psychology, which looked at the importance of thoughts and feelings instead of just rewards and punishments, became more and more popular as the century wore on.
Richard Lazarus put forth an appraisal theory of stress, which says that situations are neither good nor bad, but how we think about them causes or doesn't cause stress. There are two steps in appraisal theory: the primary appraisal deals with the situation and how you interpret it, while the secondary appraisal deals with your feelings about the situation. Either one can come first.
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Back To CourseAP Psychology: Exam Prep
17 chapters | 175 lessons | 14 flashcard sets